Most Ancient Breeds: The Genetics

September 20th, 2007 by Aileen

What Science Can Tell Us About Our Friends…


The science of genetics has contributed much to our knowledge about the ancestry of modern dog breeds, which among them are the most ancient, and pertinent details about progenitor breeds in the development of younger breeds. Not surprisingly, the most ancient breeds pioneered the working groups. Each group developed according to its functional relationship with human beings.

In 2004 researchers traced the genetic footprints of 85 dog breeds, and identified 14 “ancient” ones – defined by how similar their genomes are to the handful of grey wolves tamed by humans in Asia about 15,000 years ago that gave rise to virtually all modern dogs – 95%. Moreover, researchers report that there were probably just three founding females, called the “Eves” of the dog world.

Scientists tell us that the close working and companionship relationship between humans and tamed wolves, wolf-dogs and dog-dogs may be as ancient as the presence of both homo neandertalis and homo sapien sapien (that’s us) on this planet. Judging by fossilized dog bones found in caves along with human and Neanderthal bones. It’s just that specific breeds did not get started until more recently. Domesticated dogs probably cross-bred with wolves and wild dogs (dingos, jackals) fairly regularly until the Asians determined to manage things more selectively.

Researchers concluded that intensive selective breeding by humans, mostly within the last 500 years, is responsible for the dramatic differences in appearance among modern dogs. Because their genes tell us they’re all related to the same “Eves” – and thus also to each other. Some scientists further believe that wolves and dogs represent a single species. Does this mean proud owners will one of these days be showing their wolves at Westminster? (Joke…)

Previous wisdom had domesticated dogs originating in the Middle East, where an articulated skeleton of a young dog or wolf puppy was found under the left hand of a human skeleton dated to 12,000 years ago. There were subspecies of wolf in Arabia and India, and wild dogs in Africa from which these Middle Eastern dogs could have descended, but the newer genetic evidence goes straight to Asia.

Of the 14 most ancient breeds, 7 were determined to have the oldest genetic patterns. These are the Chow Chow and Shar Pei from China, the Akita and Shiba Inu from Japan, the Basenji of Africa, the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute of Alaska.

Filling out the list of ancient breeds are the Afghan Hound, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Saluki, Samoyed, Shih Tzu and Tibetan Terrier. There were a number of interesting genetic results for other possibly ancient breeds with strong gene patterns matching the dingo and ‘pariah’ dogs, which also came by way of Asia.

Not included in the research above, which was restricted to specified breeds of domesticated dog and their genetic linkage to the origin wolves, is the “American Dingo” or, as labeled by the United Kennel Club, the Carolina dog that looks a whole lot like Old Yeller.

Researchers also say that ‘pariah’ dogs may be descended from the same Asian wolf stock, having gone feral early on and retaining much of the pack hierarchy and hunting behaviors of the very early wolf-dogs. ‘Pariah’ dogs are an almost universal primitive type of dog that are semi-tame and typically live on the fring of human settlements from Egypt and Israel to India, southeast Asia and Australia.

They all pretty much look alike, and haven’t changed much in the 4,000 years since their pictures first appeared on limestone stela. This is called the “long-term pariah morphotype” and describes a dog typically 35-45 pounds, square in body, about 20-25 inches tall with large, upright and low-set ears.

Lehr Brisbin, a zoologist at the University of Georgia, believes these Carolina dogs are North America’s most primitive dog, and may be as much as 8,000 years old. The links below include a collection of science news about dogs and dog genetics, worthwhile for anyone interested in the subject.


Science News Online: Stalking the Ancient Dog

Racing Siberian: New Breakthrough in Dog Genetics

BBC News: Canine family histories revealed

Berne Natural History Museum: Orin and Evolution of Dogs

Journal of Heredity: Analysis of Genetic Variation in 28 Dog Breeds

6 Responses to “Most Ancient Breeds: The Genetics”

  1. Richard Laplante Says:

    Very interesting research. I’ve been reading up on this because of my interest in the Rottweiler history. DNA cuts through a lot of argument.

  2. Carl Bradley Says:

    Yeah American Dingoes, as Carolina Dogs are also called, are unique. I have one that fits the discription ginger w pricked ears, fish hooked tail, pack oriented, regurgitation for pups,good barkless hunters.They are becoming more known by people in Georgia.

  3. Carl Bradley Says:

    a lot of carolina dogs in Statesboro, Ga

  4. A Crime against Canine History….Preserve our ancient Chow | Graffiti Gossip Says:

    [...] [...]

  5. Dog News: New Study Shows Dogs May Be Smarter Than Toddlers | Dog Reflections Says:

    [...] Primitive breeds, like Afghan Hounds and Basenjis tend to score lower on these types of tests. However any fancier of these breeds will definitely tell you their dogs are not dumb, but most likely describe them as independent and stubborn. [...]

  6. Steven Robinson Says:

    Carolina Dogs are typical pariah morphotypic dogs of mixed ancestry. There is very little evidence (genetic or otherwise) to connect them with the ancient aboriginal dogs of the SE US. The original testing performed in the late ’90s ( I was working with Dr. Brisbin and others at the time) was, at best, inconclusive–showing that some Carolina Dogs tested could be grouped with other primitive dog breeds/types. But so can Chows, Huskies, German Shepherds and other domestic breeds that probably went into several strains of registered “purebred” Carolina dog bloodlines. All these breeds have been, at one time or other, extremely popular, with many of each breed most likely discarded or turned loose when they proved to be too much to handle. These strays (those who survived) would then be free to mix into the general stray/pariah/feral dog population of remote, rural areas.I know firsthand of registered Carolina Dogs with long coats and blue eyes–obvious evidence of possible recent husky/chow influence.

    Carolina Dogs are basically populations of dogs of European (domestic) descent who have, over successive generations, and through the process of natural selection, reverted back to a primitive behavioral/morphological/ecologicaI phenotype. These dogs would be physically similar, or possibly identical to the aboriginal dogs present prior to European settlement (though not genetically related), due to both being created through the pressures of natural selection. The Carolina Dog would represent domestication in reverse. This would be a situation where a completely domesticated animal would have fled to the wilds/semiwilds of the rural SE US to evolve as a completely new type (breed) free of direct human intervention and/or supervision. Those domestic physical and behavioral traits not suited for survival in the wild would have been selected against and removed from the gene pool. This would represent a reemergence of the “original dog type” which first emerged over 12,000 years ago. Such pariah types exist all over the world and are by no means unique. Technically, a “Carolina Dog” would be a dog born from UKC/ARBA registered parents–a pedigreed dog or one allowed into the breeding program by Dr. Brisbin or his associates. In other words, the Carolina Dog “breed” was created from mixed pariah dog stock taken from the rural SE US and turned into a registered breed–just like the Canaan Dog, the Telomian, the Basenji, the Santal Hound, etc. in other parts of the world.

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